As SLC steps closer to hosting 2034 Winter Games, a security expert looks back at 2002

Nov 29, 2023, 8:00 PM

9/11 flag at salt lake 2002 opening ceremony. Winter Games...

FILE: The American flag recovered from the World Trade Center in New York City is carried across the stage during the Opening Ceremony for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics at Rice-Eccles Stadium February 8, 2002 in Salt Lake City, UT. (John Gichigi/Getty Images)

(John Gichigi/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — As the prospect of hosting another Winter Olympic Games settles in, some Utahns are reflecting on the heady days of 1995, when the International Olympic Committee announced that Salt Lake City would host the 2002 Winter Games.

There was a flurry of activity and construction to ensure that the world, indeed, be welcome here. But there was one event that nobody planned on in the months ahead of the Games.

Just a few months before the Utah games were set to begin, al-Qaeda hijackers struck New York City, toppling the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. On the same day, September 11, 2001, terrorists also crashed an airliner into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and set off a multi-decade global war on terror.

Guarding Winter Games

Chris Bertram, former police chief in the Holladay precinct of the Unified Police Department and a supervisor for the Olympic Oval in Kearns during the 2002 Games, told KSL NewsRadio that before the attacks, the 2002 Games were slated to have only a light security detail — not law enforcement.

“Within the Olympic public safety command, there were two different groups. One was law enforcement. One was security, and security won out, and that was the direction that they went … the footprint of law enforcement was going to be less significant in these venues,” said Bertram.

But all that changed after Sept. 11. Security for the 2002 Games hardened to include law enforcement and military working together, Bertram said.

“That collaboration became very important because you had not only local and federal and military, you had to blend together because security was the most important aspect. There was no room for mistake.”

Dual duty

Bertram said law enforcement — police, sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers — still had their first job of protecting and serving their communities, but he said there was lots of help for the 16 days of the Winter Games.

“We were huge. I mean, we had 1,900 people,” he said. ” … our [Olympic] venues were [protected by] both deputies and Correction officers,” he said. “And we still had to protect the communities, to protect the town; somebody had to guard the towns. Everybody was working 12- and 14-hour days, and that was seven days a week.”

Local law enforcement had some heavy reinforcement

According to the White House and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (as reported by National Public Radio) more than $300 million was spent on:

  • the Secret Service, FBI, and FEMA which all had a presence in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Games,
  • biometric scanners used to identify athletes and officials,
  • metal detectors which screened all visitors to Olympic venues,
  • the Utah National Guard which patrolled the airport and screened all luggage for explosives, and
  • Black Hawk Helicopters and F-16s which patrolled restricted airspace over Salt Lake City and other Olympic venues.

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As SLC steps closer to hosting 2034 Winter Games, a security expert looks back at 2002